SI521 "Open Educational Resources at the University of Michigan" Open Textbook/Openness

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n this chapter, we will address how to define the terms "open" and "openness" when talking about education and educational resources, identify the contexts in which we find it relevant, and establish the reasons why openness is considered valuable (and reasons why it may not always be appropriate).

"Openness" is an important concept that can be applied in legal, moral, structural, and social senses. In educational contexts, it most often relates to difficulty of access to resources (including financial cost), community involvement in creation of resources, free access to the creation community, and transparency of community rules and standards. Openness in one dimension does not necessarily apply to openness in others.

Education is a field particularly concerned with openness because education is the primary means in our society for raising one's socioeconomic status and for cultivating an active, informed citizenry. Therefore, affordable, egalitarian access to quality education is a major social justice concern and traditional, non-open means of production and distribution of educational resources have been major stumbling blocks to extending educational access.

Definitions of Openness[edit | edit source]

The dictionary definitions of "openness" use the terms "having no enclosing or confining barrier", "being in a admit passage; not shut or locked", "exposed to general view or knowledge", "available to follow or make use of", and "characterized by ready accessibility and usu. generous attitude" [1]

The common threads in these definitions are a lack of confinements and broad availability. "Sharing" is an important concept closely linked with "openness", most often sharing of information. Thus, the more specific definitions of openness as applied to resource creation and education will have to do with lowering barriers to information access and encouraging participation in several senses. However, people often use the term "open" without indicating what meaning they are attaching to it in a specific context and may have very different ideas about how far one has to go to implement openness in a specific context.

When we talk about 'open educational resources' or 'open education', we are most often referring to openness the ways in which resources are created and in the ways resources are made available to potential users. Steve Jones suggests a philosophical or emotional definition: "It’s such a big, vague term. It brings to mind all sorts of other words, things like sharing, trust, you know knowledge, information. If you think about, you know for me openness in an academic context has to do with how we choose simply to get along with others. How to work with other people, how to share our work, their work, and how to keep knowledge going in the field." [2]

A good and detailed definition of openness as applied to information and communications technology for development (ICT4D) gives a sense of how openness relates to policy and economics (education is often an important part of development, so the definitions of openness used are often similar):

"The term openness, or open, is often applied as a descriptive adjective appended in front of a variety of structures (e.g., open government, open architecture, open society) and activities/products (e.g., open access to education materials, open source software). Note that openness is not a novel concept, especially with respect to development theory. For example: democracy and participation represent an opening up of decision processes to more people; and transparency and accountability are about opening up organizations, people and processes to scrutiny and feedback.

We propose a concept of openness that is a generalized abstraction from these particular instances of openness.

   Openness is a way of organizing social activities that favours:
           * universal over restricted access
           * universal over restricted participation, and
           * collaborative over centralized production.

At the core of our concept of openness are two important concepts: egalitarianism and sharing. Egalitarianism suggests an equal right to participate (access, use and collaborate). Sharing is embedded in the idea of enhanced access to things that were otherwise normally restricted. This enhanced access is often motivated by the normative desire to share – whether through an obligation to contribute to the common good or to participate in a coordinated or collaborative activity."[3]

Openness as it applies to learning in particular can mean a mode of course delivery in which some teaching takes place without in-person contact with the teacher, a system of pedagogy in which students interact with the material to construct their own individual learning experience, or to the permeability of "subject area" boundaries, allowing learning experiences to cut across several traditional disciplines [4].

Openness as applied to knowledge, to ideas, provides perhaps the simplest defintion: "A piece of knowledge is open if you are free to use, reuse, and redistribute it" [5]. Of course, since nothing is ever simple, the Open Knowledge Foundation also provides a more detailed list of 11 conditions for true openness.

Clearly, openness is a loose but very powerful concept that provides for many interpretations. However, one can see two major themes emerging from the competing defintions: access and community (or perhaps more accurately, community participation). Many projects with strong openness philosophies fail to adequately provide their own definition of openness (or a pointer to an existing definition that squares with their beliefs) to bring clarity to the debate and prevent confusion.

Applications of Openness[edit | edit source]

The concept of "openness" stands behind several major concepts in the information science and social computing fields, where the contemporary movement towards Open Educational Resources (OER) got its start.

Copyleft[edit | edit source]

Copyleft is a pun on the word copyright that refers to an application of the concept of openness to copyright law, particularly with regards to computer source code.

The copyleft movement rose out of the interplay between amateur and academic versus commercial development efforts in the computer programming community of the late 1970s and early 1980s [6]. Many amateur and academic programmers felt that copyright restrictions giving individual or corporate authors long-term control over the distribution and reuse of computer source code they had created unnecessarily confined access to resources and curtailed future development.

In response, they created copyleft as an alternative system of licensing that focuses on the user rather than the creator and binds resources to free availability rather than to paid permission. A work that is under the GNU General Public License or a Creative Commons Share-Alike license may be freely obtained, redistributed, and reused but only if the derivative work is under the same license and equally free. Copyleft is an opening of some of the restrictions imposed by traditional copyright[7].

Note that copyleft is not completely open, as most copyleft schemes do not simply involve releasing material into the completely unrestricted public domain, where it may be used commercially and does not require reciprocity. Rather, copyleft is intended to open only those restrictions which prevent access to sources code and deny community participation in code development.

Derivative Works[edit | edit source]

The issue of derivative works is also an application of openness to copyright law but also touches on openness as it pertains to creativity, creative control, and the fostering of discourse.

A derivative work is defined in the US Code as "a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted" [8]. Derivative works may have to obtain permission from the copyright holder of the original work and may not be themselves covered by copyright if they are not deemed to contain sufficient "transformative" value--sufficient modification to the purpose and nature of the derivative work. The extent to which one allows derivative works is a major openness issue in copyright law. One of the main purposes of copyleft, other than removing economic and legal barriers to access, was to allow and encourage the creation of derivative programming works from source code.

However, derivative works are found in many other realms as well. For example, a movie adaptation of a novel is a derivative work, with the original work being the novel. Academic discourse (and academic activity more generally) is essentially a gigantic web of derivative works, with new scholarship continually building upon what has come before and creating connections to new areas. This is also true of creative or artistic works, which build on or respond to previous works, sometimes directly (as in the modernization of Romeo and Juliet in West Side Story) and sometimes obliquely (as the world described in Dungeons and Dragons ultimately relates back to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings). The right of academics to reuse and transform scholarly ideas (even those set forth in copyrighted forms) is well-established, as is reuse for purposes of parody, but artistic reuse of copyrighted works more generally is not as well protected under traditional copyright law [9].

Communities of Practice[edit | edit source]

Communities of practice are a social and structural application of the concept of openness as an alternative to more rigidly bounded forms of education and standards enforcement, such as conventional classroom education.

A community of practice (or CoP) is a group of people who are working together towards a common goal, as well as the process of social learning that takes place during the work and the shared sociocultural practices that emerge as a result[10]. The term originated in cognitive anthropology to describe the learning that takes place in apprenticeship situations but has since been extended to the study of education, sociology, second language acquisition, and knowledge management. It is its application to education and knowledge management that is particularly relevant for our purposes.

In a community of practice, new and inexperienced members of the community learn the practices and norms of the community from older and more experienced members through observing them at work and being involved in the process of getting work done. It is no coincidence that CoPs were first observed in apprenticeship situations, where knowledge is passed on primarily through hands-on participation and interaction with the master, rather than through classroom lectures or reading texts. In this kind of environment, most information is transmitted as social capital, knowledge held by individuals and leveraged through the collection strength of the community. The boundaries of the lesson-plan format are removed and the boundary between novice and master becomes a gradient of experience and understanding. The people involved are the primary information resources, not documents. The community is engaged in a constant process of both reifying and modifying its standards and practices via transmitting them to new members. Because the force of the community's disapproval and censure can be brought to bear on those who fail to observe its standards, CoPs are often largely self-policing and may not require large traditional authority structures to keep order.

Because they offer the benefits of established, enforced standards but also of democratized, decentralized decision-making through the constant renewal and revision of standards, communities of practice are often the preferred organization structure for open-source and OER projects. The most successful projects are not necessary originally built on this premise but have almost always acquired along the way a strongly bonded community of committed participants who have jointly developed their own community standards[11].

Transparency and Accountability[edit | edit source]

Applying the concept of openness to governance, ethics, and organizational responsibility produces the concepts of transparency and accountability.

Transparency in a social process means that all elements and stages involved in the process are known to everyone involved (or the unknown information is easily obtained). Accountability means that responsibility for correct application of processes and their results and the consequences thereof is attributable and enforced. Openness here means removing barriers to information access regarding processes and decision-making, especially where those barriers may result in inequities. Transparency helps ensure that processes are fairly carried out as all parties are aware of the way things will work. Accountability ensures that when processes are not fairly carried out or other mistakes are made, responsibility is attributed to the correct individuals. Both are important in democratically-run organizations as they keep the organization accountable to its members, encourage universal participation, and prevent accusations of bias.

A main goal of accountability and transparency is to build trust in participants. Openness in processes and decision-making contributes to establishing trust[12]. This is especially important in situations like the communities of practice discussed above, where achievement of the common goal relies on mutual trust and respect. Likewise, education requires a foundation of trust between participants in order to produce results.

Iterative Construction[edit | edit source]

Iterative construction is an application of the concept of openness to resource design and production. It removes boundaries of fixity and terminality.

Iterative construction refers to a circular process of design, production, and evaluation that emphasizes repeated review and improvement to prevent stagnation. Creation is an 'open' process that may be iterated as many times as necessary to build on what has previously been done and correct previous errors. It is an important part of open-source software design, where code may go through hundreds of revisions and public release does not mean that a project stops updating with bug fixes and new features[13]. Iterative construction removes the limitation of an endpoint to create an open process that views the end of one stage as always the beginning of another.

Iteration is also important in education, where each goal is meant to be an endpoint for one stage of the process and the jumping-off point for the next. Iterative construction may be seen as an application of empirical investigation, as ideas for improvement are tested and then evaluated in each cycle.

Why is Openness Important in Education?[edit | edit source]

The movement towards openness in education long predates the open source and OER movements, dating back to Enlightenment ideals of self-betterment and an educated populace capable of reasoned participation in democratic processes. The establishment of public school districts and state-sponsored land-grant universities throughout the 19th century was a major step in that process, opening access to education to a much greater percentage of the population, although significant barriers still existed for the urban and rural poor, racial and ethnic minorities, non-native English speakers, women, the differently abled, and other marginalized groups. Access to quality, effective education is access to socioeconomic opportunities and to political efficacy, thus the traditional classroom model of education reinforced the marginalization of the groups it least effectively served.

In the 20th century, alternatives to traditional classroom education such as distance education broke down some, but not all, of these barriers by addressing issues of locality, scheduling, age, prior educational requirements, etc [14]. However, traditional distance education relies heavily on independent study of text resources and presents difficulties for those with different learning styles and lacks the significant pedagogical, social, and emotional benefits of social education--education that includes strong teacher-student and peer-to-peer interaction in instruction. OER and other new developments in educational openness have the potential to bring social elements into distance education, bringing the advantages of both together in potentially very powerful ways.

Innovation is also vitally important in education, which must be constantly in search of ways to better meet the needs of students and to improve pedagogy and educational resources. Open educational models, simply by dint of not already having entrenched methodologies and access to established support structures, must often be far more innovative than traditional or closed models [15]. Open access to the means of educational production creates greater competition and forces even traditional producers to be more innovative as well [13].

Open access also increases the sheer number of people participating in educational endeavors, which creates economies of scale and opens up new possibilities. Open access journal articles have been found to accumulate significantly more than non-OA articles, even when the two types are articles are found in the same journal [16]. By removing access barriers to the articles and increasing the number of citations they receive, scholarship can advance more quickly in new directions, often with contributions from unexpected quarters that would not previously have been able to make use of the content. Scholarship relies on a commons, a pool of shared resources that all are free to dip into a build upon. Like any shared resource, the more people there are participating, the more of it can be pooled together at once. Unlike other kinds of resources, however, the intellectual commons only grows stronger the more people use it as their creations as long as their creations also return to the commons and expand it further [17].

In sum, openness is important in education because it underlines educational core values, creating possibilities to better serve traditionally marginalized groups, encouraging constant innovation towards improvement, and harnessing economies of scale that hasten advancement.

History of Successful "Open" Projects[edit | edit source]

The value of and potential benefits to increased openness in education are now clear but it is still often argued that openness is difficult to implement and carries a history of noble but ultimately fruitless efforts. While there are certainly many open projects that have failed (and it is important to remember here that traditional/closed projects do not have 100% success rates either, even with greater institutional support), there is also a history of successful efforts that demonstrate openness is possible under the right conditions.

Open Source Software[edit | edit source]

Community creation of freely available computer software has been a significant force in programming since at least the 1980s but the 1990s and 2000s have seen the emergence of several major breakthroughs. These include the development of GNU/Linux--a family of full operating systems and a galaxy of associated software that run most of the world's web servers through the Apache server program, Mozilla Firefox--a browser developed from the source code of the defunct Netscape browser that actually succeeded in denting the market share of Internet Explorer, and DeCSS--a program to override region encoding on DVDs that prevented players from reading discs from other countries. All three have strong communities behind them that have strong stakes in seeing the projects succeed and are able to compete with commercially-available alternatives by providing greater access and innovation.

Crowd-Sourcing[edit | edit source]

Official versions of open-source software usually have some hierarchy of participation to ensure that changes to source code are constructive but crowd-sourcing (which is usually behind technologies referred to as part of "Web 2.0") takes open participation to another level by relying almost entirely on the general public for contributions. The premise of crowd-sourcing is that almost everyone has enough competency in some area to make at least a small contribution and that those contributions can add up to create something much larger.The most famous and successful crowd-sourcing effort is Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that allows almost entirely unrestricted editing (only requiring IP-logging or registration to edit and temporarily protecting articles that have been subjects of repeated malicious editing) [18]. Wikipedia offers versions in dozens of languages and the accuracy of the English version has been found to be statistically comparable to that of traditional print encyclopedias. Wikis, clusters of linked webpages that are freely editable, have also gained popularity as a medium for things like open source software technical documentation and FAQs, as they can be edited by anyone involved in development or even by users reporting bugs and fixes.

Open Educational Resources[edit | edit source]

The OER movement showed its first major successes in the late 1990s and early 2000s with programs such as MIT Open Courseware, which began in 2001 and now hosts online materials for almost the entire MIT course catalog, as well as providing translations into several languages [19]. It has seen 54 million unique visitors from all parts of the world including instructors, students, and self-learners [20]. More than 60 other institutions have followed suit and begun placing course materials online, without any detriment to the desirability or competitiveness of their curricula.

Open Textbooks[edit | edit source]

Open textbooks have been later to come to fruition than other types of OER and are often less truly "open" as they require more concerted and uniform effort to produce an acceptable and authoritative result. However, there have recently been some successful efforts that leveraged semi-structured communities of practice in the field in question to produce authoritative, peer-reviewed textbooks that still partook of the values and benefits of openness. Collaborative Statistics, an introductory-level stats textbook that is freely available under a Creative Commons license, is now being used in lieu of a traditional textbook at least six different institutions[21].

Open Data[edit | edit source]

In the sciences, open access to large-scale research data is imperative for experiments to be independently repeated and results confirmed as well as for new angles to be examined. However, the desire for exclusive research and worries about intellectual property rights often keep data locked up in private hands. Open data is a new frontier for the openness movement so results are not yet clear but there have been successful attempts to define what workable open data should look like. There is now a protocol available from Creative Commons for sharing data that conforms to the Open Knowledge Definition and the Budapest Declaration on Open Access that addresses the concerns of both the original creators of data and the future users, as well as a specific new Creative Commons license for large datasets that marks them as openly accessible for analysis, CC0 [22].

What is the Future of Open?[edit | edit source]

The openness movement is constantly seeking new applications for its principles and new areas of education that could benefit from increased access and participation. For example, it has been suggested that a special Creative Commons license for pre-publication documents such as departmental working papers would relieve tensions about copyright and access between authors and publishers, while assuring academics of the early access necessary to keep abreast of new developments in their fields [23].

The openness movement also seeks to apply openness in more senses to areas that have already been at least partially opened. Wikipedia is itself an excellent example of open access and open publication but open access research creates the possibility for it become a much more powerful and more reliable educational tool through immediately verifiable linked citations [24]

Although it has grown immensely over the last ten to fifteen years and shows every sign of continuing to do so in the foreseeable future, the open education movement is not likely to completely supplant the traditional educational institutions and methods, which evolved in part because they were reasonably effective responses to well-established needs [25]. The future of open is more likely to involve a mixed, competitive marketplace of open and closed production systems and educational models situated within both traditional authority structures and looser communities of practice. Not all barriers can be lifted but those that we allow to remain should be as equitable and manageable as possible. Openness seems poised to become a truly essential part of educational values and experience, not merely something that is nice to have.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Open." 2009. Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary. April 1, 2009. <>
  2. "October 2008 Transcript: Openness 2.0 - Part 1 The State of Openness: Sandra Braman, Mary Case and Steve Jones". Oct. 2008. First Monday. April 1, 2009. <>
  3. "Openness to Open ICT4D." Open ICT for Developmennt. 2009. April 1, 2009. <>
  4. Ashcroft, Kate and Lorraine Foreman-Peck. Managing Teaching and Learning in Further and Higher Education. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.
  5. Open Knowledge Defintion. Open Knowledge Foundation. 2009. April 1, 2009. <>
  6. Allison, Dennis (July 1976). "Design notes for TINY BASIC". SIGPLAN Notices (ACM) 11(7). 25-33. doi:10.1145/987491.987494
  7. Stallman, Richard. "What is Copyleft?" GNU Project - Free Software Foundation. 2008. <>
  8. 17 USC § 101
  9. Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.
  10. Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  11. Keats, Derek. "Collaborative Development of Open Content: A Process Model to Unlock the Potential for African Universities." First Monday 8(2), February 3, 2003.
  12. Bulach, Clete. "A Measure of Openness and Trust." People and Education 1(4), 1993.
  13. a b Raymond, Eric S. "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." First Monday. 1998. <>
  14. Spencer, Bruce. "Removing Barriers and Enhancing Openness: Distance Education as Social Adult Education." The Journal of Distance Education 10(2), 1995.
  15. Shale, Doug. "Innovation in International Higher Education: The Open Universities." The Journal of Distance Education 2(1), 1987.
  16. Harnad, Stevan. "Comparing the Impact of Open-Access (OA) vs. Non-OA Articles in the Same Journals." D-Lib Magazine 10(6), June 2004.
  17. Hepburn, Gary. "Seeking an Educational Commons: The Promise of Open-Source Development Models." First Monday 9(8), August 2, 2004.
  18. Lamb, Brian. "Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not." EDUCAUSE Review 39(5) September/October 2004. 36-48.
  19. Brown, John Seely, Allen Hammond, and Daniel E. Atkins. "A Review of the Open Educational Resources Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities." Hewlett Foundation. <>
  20. "Free Online MIT Course Materials - Site Statistics." 2009. <>
  21. Baker, Judy. "It Takes a Consortium to Support Open Textbooks." EDUCAUSE Review 44(1), January/February 2009.
  22. Shearer, Wade Preston. "Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data." Creative Commons, 2007. <>
  23. Clarke, Roger. "A Proposal for an Open Content License for Research Paper (Pr)ePrints." First Monday 10(8), August 1, 2005.
  24. Wilinsky, John. "What Open Access Research Can Do for Wikipedia." First Monday 12(3), March 5, 2007.
  25. Midgley, Steve. "The Case for Open Markets in Education." First Monday 11(7), July 3, 2006.